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Jackson County, Missouri

The plaintiff’s decedents were a husband and wife and their eight-year-old grandson. The plaintiff alleged that the design of the Ford pickup truck’s fuel tank was defective since there was not adequate protection of the fuel tank and the collision caused the truck to burst into flames. The defendant maintained that the excessive speed of the other vehicle was the cause of the crash.

On October 9, ________, the decedents, John and Shirley Mathes were driving their ________ two-wheel drive Ford F150 pickup truck pulling a camper-trailer behind their vehicle. They were traveling with their eight-year-old grandson. The vehicle was traveling on Interstate 70 near Warrenton, Missouri. There had been a previous rainstorm and the roadway was slick. A tractor-trailer owned by the defendant Sher Express was traveling eastbound when it hydroplaned on the wet pavement, hit the median and flipped over.

The tractor-trailer came to rest partially blocking the westbound lane where the decedents were traveling in their pickup truck.

The decedents collided with the overturned tractor-trailer.

Another vehicle collided into the rear axle of the decedents’ pickup truck tearing a six inch gash in gas tank. The pickup truck erupted into flames and the decedents were burned to death.

The plaintiff filed suit against defendant Ford Motor Company and Sher Express, the owner of the tractor-trailer. The plaintiff alleged that the fuel tank on the pickup truck was defectively designed. The plaintiff further alleged that the four-wheel drive version of the F150 was designed with a protective metal shield p 7 3 that covered the underside of the fuel tank, but that the two- wheel drive model had no such protective covering. The plaintiffs maintained that the absence of the protective shield on the two- wheel drive truck allowed the fuel tank to be punctured by two pointed anti-lock brake system guards. The plaintiffs argued that the ABS guards, contrary to Ford’s own internal engineering standards, were pointed in shape and created a hazard to the fuel tank in a collision.

The Mathes pickup was a two-wheel drive version of the F150.

During the design and development of the F150, Ford repeatedly failed to pass its internal corporate crash test standards. A production model of the 4x2 F150 never passed Ford’s 50 mph vehicle-to-vehicle corporate crash test standards before being sold to the public. The ________ 4x4 F150 was equipped with a large steel shield covering the entire underside of the fuel tank. The plaintiff contended that the defendant Ford did not put the crash shield on the 4x2 version, the model that John Mathes was driving at the time of the collision and, during the collision, the pointed ABS guards tore a six-inch hole in the fuel tank. The plaintiff further alleged that the operator of the tractor- trailer was negligent in his operation of the vehicle and was also responsible for the death of the decedents.

The defendant Ford argued that the liability for the accident rested with the trucking company, co-defendant Sher Express that owned the tractor-trailer that collided with the decedents’ vehicle. Ford maintained that the decedents did not survive the initial impact. Ford further maintained that the F150 was developed to meet crash test standards three times more severe than the federal standards and that there was no defect in the F150 driven by the decedents. Prior to trial, defendant Sher Express admitted liability for the accident, but not for the deaths and agreed to pay $1 million, the limit of its insurance policy.

After a two-week trial, the jury deliberated for five hours before returning a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and against Ford and Sher Express. The jury awarded $3 million dollars for the death of the 64-year old John Mathes, $2.5 million dollars for the death of 58-year-old Shirley Mathes and $7 million dollars for the death of 8-year-old Jacob Mathes.

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